The second preliminary final features a clash of two Western Sydney sides, when the Bulldogs face the Penrith Panthers. It’s been a rags to riches tale for the Panthers this season, having defied injuries and the pundits to be just one win away from a dream Grand Final berth. Similarly the Bulldogs have come from the clouds, and after disposing of Melbourne and Manly they are poised to reach their second Grand Final in the past 3 years. Once again Penrith will start as underdogs for this encounter, however it is a tag they have become accustomed to and given recent history there is plenty of reason for optimism. The panthers have won both clashes with the Bulldogs this year, 18-16 in Round 3 and more recently 22-16 at this ground in Round 21. Penrith have also won 6 of their past 9 encounters with the Dogs at this ground, and 9 of the past 13 meetings at all venues. Only 1 of the past 5 clashes at all venues between the two have tallied over 38pts, so with plenty on the line a repeat of this would come as no surprise. Penrith play a simple style of football relying on a high completion rate and a smart kicking game, whilst the Dogs will look to utilise their giant pack and play the Panthers through the middle. Bulldogs front rower James Graham shapes as the key man for this clash, as so much of the Dogs attack revolves around the subtle playmaking of the big Englishman. If the Panthers aren’t overawed by the occasion and can harness Graham, then I think they can win as I believe they have more class out wide and the self-belief to get the job done in tight games. The Bulldogs have struggled to score points in the second half after getting out to a lead, so no doubt coach des Hasler will be keen to arrest this worrying trend. This looks to be the tightest of contests, however it is worth noting that of the last 17 Preliminary finals 15 have resulted in a double figure winning margin, which shows that blowouts certainly do occur at this time of year so anything can happen!